How to Find Parks & Trails Near You

I think it’s human nature to think we have to go on a road trip or hop on a plane to get to cool parks and trails…while ignoring most of the cool places in our local area.

"find local parks and trails" with image of woman hiking in the autumn woods

Then COVID-19 came along with social distancing, limited park services and close-to-home campaigns. There was never a better time to discover those local spots.

Just because the world has moved on (thankfully), it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue to take advantage of great trails, parks and waterways near you.

You don’t have to wait for weekends and vacation time to enjoy great hiking, camping, biking, paddling, snowshoeing—whatever it is you love to do.

What’s the best way to find them? Here are our suggestions:

Research Your County’s Parks & Rec Website Section

I live in the Twin Cities are of Minnesota, so there are several counties in my local area, each with its own Parks and Recreation department. I’ve found they each have various levels of thoroughness in their online information—from hardly any to very detailed.

But even the least helpful web pages give you a decent place to start: your local regional and county parks. At minimum they’ll be listed with an address and the types of activities available at each one.

The good ones will have plenty of helpful information including trail mileages, gear rental details, any fees, how to get permits, etc.

crosby farm regional park on the Mississippi River
Sometimes the only information you get on a local park is its address—then it’s time to go explore for yourself!

Dig into Your City’s Parks & Rec Department

Larger cities have their own Parks & Rec department, so that’s another place to dig in.

City parks, regional bike trails, canoe and kayak launches, ski trails—if they’re funded by your city instead of the county or state, they’ll be here.

Check Out Your State’s State Parks Website

For Minnesotans we have the Minnesota DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and Explore Minnesota (the state tourism entity).

Your state will have something similar. Research both your state government’s natural resources department and your state’s tourism department to find parks and trails in your local area.

Look at the National Park Service Website

Do you have a national park, monument, water trail or natural area near you? You may be surprised at what’s close by that you never knew about!

Go to the National Park Service’s website to search and learn about specific areas near you.

hiking afton state park
It was my sister-in-law who told me about this hiking trail in one of our local state parks

Ask Your Local Outdoors Retailers & Outfitters

Outfitters are in the business of knowing the best outdoor destinations in their area to bring their guests. You may find plenty of info on their website or social pages.

A super way to get to know more about your area is to sign up for a tour, then talk to your guide and ask for his or her suggestions of favorite places.

Local outdoors retailers are another good resource, since most of their employees will be outdoor lovers, too. Next time you’re in the store to make a purchase, ask the staff for ideas.

Find Local Clubs and Groups

Many metropolitan areas host local clubs and groups that are outdoors based: biking clubs, hiking clubs, paddling clubs, climbing clubs.

You can find these in a few different ways:

  • Online search for club/group websites
  • Social Media search (Facebook, especially)
  • If outdoor retailers have a bulletin board in their store, you’ll likely find info about outdoors clubs and groups there
kayaking a local creek, saint paul
A local group website gave the best details about kayaking this urban creek near me

Search for Facebook & Discussion Groups

Sometimes an online discussion group will be your best source of information. If you can find one near you that covers the activity/activities you enjoy, join it and jump in.

Most outdoor lovers love to share their photos, adventures and suggestions.

Ask Your Outdoorsy Friends (and invite yourself along!)

And of course, if you have friends and family members who are active outside, invite yourself along! Or at the very least, ask them for their favorite trails, parks, waterways and campgrounds.

Sometimes it’s hard to match up schedules, but you can always get ideas and head out on your own.

Use Your Local Spots to “Train” for Destination Adventures

One great reason for being familiar with your local parks and trails is that they can be a huge help in preparing for an out-of-town outdoor adventure.

two women with bikes on top of hill overlooking macinac city
If I had trained for hills at home first, maybe I wouldn’t have had to walk my bike up all Mackinac Island’s huge hills!

For example, my next trip to visit family in Colorado. While I can’t prepare ahead of time for the altitude, I can get my legs ready with hill workouts in local parks I’m familiar with.

Because I’ve done the research and taken the time to explore many of them, I know which ones have the biggest hills.

Another example: Say your dream is to kayak on the ocean. If you’ve never been in a kayak, maybe the ocean isn’t the optimal place to start! But maybe you can find a local kayak outfitter, touring company or even club that can get you going on your skills and confidence.

By taking advantage of local outdoor spots first, we will likely be more confident when getting to our dream destinations. We’ll also enjoy them more and probably be less sore afterwards 🙂

Here’s more…

Sharon Brodin